From Your President – Diane Baker-Hallowell
It is my honor to be here with you all as the newly elected president of the Board of Trustees (BoT). After just over a month in this position, I have a newfound appreciation and respect for all those who have served in this role. This duty requires a tremendous commitment of time, energy, and emotion, working in collaboration with the rest of the board, staff, teams, and committees and of the course the minister, to serve the congregation.
I have been a member of UUCCH for over 30 years. After the fire in 1997, I was nominated to the BoT during the building of our new Sanctuary. In hindsight, there were decisions and mistakes made which have resulted, in part, in the crisis we are now in. I don’t have any recollection of pushback or criticism from the congregation at that time. I do remember many members donating a lot money and volunteering long, hard hours of working on the building to get it finished and open. We had been meeting at the Joyce Kilmer School for months and we were all anxious to get back home. During this time our minister, Rudy, was having to retire due to his declining health.
After Rudy’s retirement, we went into a period of interim ministry and a search for a new settled minister. We called Rev. Melanie Sullivan-Morel as our minister. I was no longer on the Board, and Bill and I enjoyed Melanie’s services and had her officiate at our wedding in 2005. We became aware of trouble brewing within the congregation with some members seeking her termination. It was very divisive and disruptive with some members leaving. I really didn’t understand what the issues were, but felt that since I wasn’t working with her as part of staff or leadership, perhaps there were issues I was not privy to.
So, off we went again into interim ministry, while another search was started. That resulted in us settling Rev Manish Mishra, who brought a younger and more diverse ministry to UUCCH. To many it was just what they were looking for and our membership increased considerably. During his tenure we were encouraged to develop a Policy Governance model to more effectively manage and grow our church. After a few years of struggling to institute this model in a sustainable way, Manish made a decision to move on and leave for another settlement. It again put our congregation into uncertainty and turmoil.
More Interim ministry, first with the Schmidt’s and then with Rev. Larry had us limping along, but surviving. I was nominated to the Search Committee, and we met every single Monday evening for two years, polling our members, holding cottage meetings, sending out surveys, receiving packets of potential candidates to review, interview and a few meets and greets. As a group, we were remarkably cohesive and able to hear each other’s opinions about the suitability and qualifications of our top three. We were extremely disappointed when our top candidate declined our invitation to come and meet our congregation, and chose to go elsewhere. We had heard rumors during our search that UUCCH had a reputation as being a challenging congregation in spite of having a great location, great demographics and so much potential for growth.
After Rev. Larry’s interim term came to an end we went into a year of lay-led services, and it was decided to search for a Developmental Minister. Some folks felt very comfortable with the lay-led services and loved Kate Sloan’s sermons. Some members had no desire to go into Developmental Ministry and were vocal about resisting it. If we were to get out of the Fellowship mentality of remaining a small, family sized congregation, we needed to find out what was holding us back.
I feel very fortunate that the search found Rev. Margret who I liken to a Life Coach for our church. She has the experience and credentials to help us determine who we are, what our goals and vision are, what attitudes, beliefs and points of view are obstacles blocking our way?
Obviously two big obstacles dropped on our heads shortly after she arrived! The catastrophic failure of the roof trusses which needed immediate remediation followed by the devastating and constantly evolving Covid-19 pandemic. Is it any wonder that we feel like we are coming apart at the seams? Just as we did after the fire in ‘97, the tragedy of 9/11, and the mind- boggling election of 2016, we need to come together now in a way that supports all of us.
It feels to me like we are reverting to old patterns of behavior. I’m reminded of the lines in a Buffalo Springfield Song, For What it’s Worth, “battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”.
There are emails that are being sent and social media posts being made that are creating more division, anger and hurt feelings. Some claiming a lack of transparency on the part of leadership, and criticism about the way the renovation and the pandemic restrictions are not being handled correctly. I recall a poster a friend shared that is used in her school that uses the letters THINK to remind the students to ask themselves before they say something or post something that could be hurtful to consider if it is True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary and is it Kind. An excellent reminder for us all.
We seem to be stuck in this Zero-Sum paradigm. If something we consider our right to have or do, is going to be offered to someone else, we lose all of it. This false narrative is so damaging to both sides.
This church is what gives me hope and strength to keep looking for a better way of being in community, in our congregation and in the wider community as well. It pains me to know that some of our members are struggling and feeling heartbroken. Being an eternal optimist, I truly believe there will come a solution and it needs to start with forgiveness. Forgive each other and forgive ourselves.
As board president, I am open to hearing your concerns, but also hearing what your hopes and vision is for our future. We need to really reflect on what UUCCH does for us, and look for all that is positive and good for us all.
May we all go forward in peace.